Note: This post contains spoilers for “Bullet Train.”
It’s safe to say that the summer movie season of 2022 has been a bit of a disappointment for action fans. While action buffs got a taste of great filmmaking earlier this year with “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” the slate of films released since has been somewhat underwhelming. Outside of “Top Gun: Maverick,” films like “The Gray Man,” “Thor: Love and Thunder,” “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” and “Jurassic World Dominion” all felt like major disappointments.
That being said, there’s a movie coming to save the summer, and that’s David Leitch’s new action thriller “Bullet Train.” “Bullet Train” is a fun mix of great action sequences, quirky characters, an engaging “whodunit” storyline, and a lot of stylized music. It’s a throwback to a simpler time, when action movies were more concerned with getting the stunts right than they were about setting up an extended universe.
Outside of the great fight scenes, “Bullet Train” actually has one of the best ensemble casts of the year. Here is every main character in “Bullet Train,” ranked worst to best.
14. The Son
Remember “Percy Jackson”? Yeah, we try not to, either. Thankfully, Logan Lerman managed to salvage his career after starring in the disastrous young adult adaptation. Since then, Lerman has mostly stuck to dramatic films like “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” but he’s no stranger to action movies either, having popped up in the World War II thriller “Fury.”
Unfortunately, Lerman’s growth as an actor isn’t really showcased in “Bullet Train.” Lerman has a brief role in the film “The Son,” the heir to the mysterious Russian mob boss known as “The White Death” (Michael Shannon). The Son is being transported to his father by the assassins Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). However, he’s killed off fairly early within the film; as it turns out, the Son isn’t quite as ruthless or intelligent as his father.
While the Son’s death is an important plot device, Lerman doesn’t really add anything special to the character. That being said, watching Lemon and Tangerine try to dress up his corpse does add a good deal of humor to the film.
13. The Wolf
The Wolf (Benito A Martínez Ocasio, aka Bad Bunny) is one of the many assassins who is tricked into taking the Bullet Train. He’s on a mission of revenge; he wants to find the person that started a massacre at his wedding. The Wolf has assumed that Ladybug (Brad Pitt) is the culprit, and their initial brawl is one of the better fight scenes in the film. It’s also a great contrast of personalities; Ladybug is calm and relaxed, but the Wolf is incredibly serious, and determined to complete his mission.
The Wolf isn’t a bad character, but other than his anger, he’s not really given enough defining characteristics to rank any higher on this list. Perhaps if he had survived a little bit longer, he would have realized that Ladybug was not to blame for the massacre (the real killer, an assassin called the Hornet (Zazie Beetz), spends most of the film hiding in plain sight), and gotten a chance to show a little more depth.
“Bullet Train” is mostly nonstop action, but occasionally, it slows down to indulge in a heartfelt moment. These scenes aren’t saccharine. They’re critical; knowing just a little bit about the characters allows the audience to empathize with them during the brutal blowouts. The “young boy in a hospital room” trope has been used in countless other action movies, but surprisingly, it doesn’t feel stale in “Bullet Train.” Instead, the film uses it to examine the importance of legacy, family, and honor — it makes sense that a family of proud warriors would want to protect their child.
Wataru (Kevin Akiyoshi Ching) is the son of Yuichi Kimura (Andrew Koji), and the grandson of the Elder (Hiroyuki Sanada). He’s used as leverage by Prince (Joey King) to get Kimura to follow her commands. Although Wataru is only briefly seen, he has a profound impact on the other characters, and that’s enough to tug on the audience’s heartstrings; by the end of the film, it’s clear that the Elder would do anything to ensure his grandson’s safety.
When did Brad Pitt and Sandra Bullock become this year’s best action duo? Earlier this year, Pitt had a brief role in the action-comedy “The Lost City,” which starred Bullock and Channing Tatum. Accordingly, Bullock pops up in “Bullet Train” as the voice of Maria, the handler of Pitt’s character, Ladybug (amusingly, Tatum also has a cameo in “Bullet Train” as one of the train passengers).
Maria adds a comic element to the film as she guides Ladybug through his mission. In one running gag, Ladybug discusses his therapy sessions with Maria in between the fight scenes; this is an intelligent and efficient way to deliver exposition, of course, but Maria and Ladybugs’ conversations are also just plain fun. The only reason that Maria ranks so low on this list is because she actually shows up in person at the end of the film to rescue Ladybug. The scene recycles some of the same jokes about Ladybug’s luck; it probably would’ve been funnier if Bullock’s part had been exclusively a vocal role.
10. The Concessionist
If the main cast of “Bullet Train” wasn’t funny enough, the film also includes additional characters who are solely there for comic relief. Among them is the train’s concessionist (Karen Fukuhara), who seems relatively clueless about the various assassins who are trying to kill each other. It’s inadvertently humorous considering that Fukuhara also plays Kimiko on “The Boys”; if “Bullet Train” was set in the universe of Prime Video’s superhero satire, Kimiko would easily dispense with all of these wacky assassins. However, the concessionist’s naïveté is a fun recurring gag, and it’s nice to have some jokes that aren’t about killing people.
One of the best moments in the film comes during a brutal fight between Ladybug and Tangerine. The concessionist walks into the middle of the battle, forcing both men to stop. Ladybug decides to annoy Tangerine by purchasing a fizzy water bottle from the concessionist; her pleasant attitude only makes Tangerine more angry.
9. The Conductor
Another character who’s mostly there for comedy is the train’s conductor (Masi Oka). This is another case in which a well-known action star appears in a smaller role; Oka is best known for his role as Hiro Nakamura on “Heroes.” However, the conductor is no superhero — he’s simply an ordinary guy who is doing his job, and his biggest concern seems to be making sure that Ladybug is getting off at the correct stop.
The conductor ranks slightly above the concession vendor because he adds more tension to the story. Ladybug is already busy avoiding the various assassins who are trying to kill him; dealing with an annoying conductor is just another thing that he has to worry about. The conductor also adds some exposition about where the train is stopping that helps establish the ticking clock that ramps up much of the excitement.
8. The Hornet
Prior to directing “Bullet Train,” David Leitch showed that he could create action films that were both brutal and hilarious with his subversive superhero sequel “Deadpool 2.” Although comic book fans had been looking forward to seeing Ryan Reynolds reprise his role as the titular Merc with a Mouth, it was the supporting cast that stole the film. Among the best new characters added to “Deadpool 2” was Domino (Zazie Beetz), the “lucky” member of Deadpool’s new team.
It was exciting to hear that Beetz and Leitch were going to reunite. Unfortunately, Beetz isn’t quite as awesome in “Bullet Train” as she was in “Deadpool 2.” She stars here as Hornet, an assassin who has secretly boarded the train in disguise. Hornet is responsible for the massacre at the Wolf’s wedding, as well as the death of the Son, and is renowned for her use of poisonous weapons. However, she doesn’t unmask herself until late in the story.
Hornet and Ladybug share one truly great fight scene. Despite Hornet’s aptitude for poison, she’s ultimately unsuccessful in defeating her rival, who uses Hornet’s poison against her and takes the only antidote for himself. There is a brief joke in which Ladybug seems confused as to why Hornet would not have an extra antidote. While it’s nice to see the film address this, it still doesn’t make any sense. Seriously, why would an assassin as fearsome as Hornet fail to bring a back up?
7. The White Death
“The White Death” is one of the most legendary figures in the “Bullet Train” universe’s criminal underworld. In fact, the film’s entire plot revolves around White Death’s plan to trick the various assassins aboard the train into killing each other. Although White Death himself does not appear until the end of the film, his backstory is shown in flashbacks throughout, as the other characters recount the legends that they have heard about him.
White Death made his name by wiping out powerful members of the Japanese underworld, and Tangerine and Lemon are supposedly on the Bullet Train in order to deliver White Death’s son and money to him. The film does a great job at building up the mystery until Michael Shannon’s face is revealed; although the film has many eccentric characters, Shannon plays the role very seriously. His duel against the Elder is one of the few points in which the film is almost devoid of one-liners, and their battle is so awesome that White Death’s actual demise later on feels underwhelming by comparison.
It’s interesting to learn why White Death wants revenge on all of the other characters. Similar to Keyser Soze in “The Usual Suspects,” White Death has built his reputation on his legend, and he constructs a brilliant plan to outwit his enemies. Unfortunately, his motivation is a little bit generic, which prevents him from becoming a truly iconic villain.
Kimura is one of the most relatable characters in “Bullet Train.” In the film’s opening scene, Kimura is in a hospital room with his son, Wataru, who was pushed off a building; understandably, Kimura wants to get revenge on the person responsible for his son’s injuries. He’s determined to take vengeance for himself, despite his father’s insistence to be patient. Unfortunately, Kimura isn’t quite as intelligent as his father, and he’s quickly pulled into a trap by Prince, who uses Wataru as leverage to get what she wants.
Andrew Koji does a great job at showing Kimura’s frustration, anger, and annoyance during this situation. He’s worried about his son, but he also doesn’t want to have to follow the orders of a bratty young girl. While the interactions between Kimura and Prince are often played for laughs, they do show the love that Kimura has for his son.
Kimura ranks a little bit lower on the list because, compared to his father, he’s kind of a buffoon. However, Kimura does come into his own once the Elder actually boards the train. During the climactic fight scene against White Death’s gang, Kimura shows that he has learned all the lessons that his father taught him about swordplay. If there’s a sequel to “Bullet Train,” hopefully Kimura will play a larger role.
There are very few performers who are both great “serious actors” and great “movie stars,” but Brad Pitt is one of them. While Pitt has proven that he can be a captivating dramatic actor in films like “Moneyball,” “Killing Them Softly,” “Se7en,” and “Fight Club,” he’s also proven that he can kick some serious butt in action movies, too. We got a taste of Pitt’s combat skills in films like “World War Z,” “Inglourious Basterds,” “Troy,” and “Spy Game,” but “Bullet Train” is easily his most sizable action role to date.
Although “Bullet Train” works because it is an ensemble film, Ladybug is essentially the audience’s avatar; he’s just as confused as to why everyone is trying to kill each other as the audience is. Ladybug figures things out at the same time as the audience, which makes him more relatable. He’s also pretty ruthless; despite his wiseguy attitude, Ladybug is very skilled in hand-to-hand combat.
Pitt also gives Ladyburg some of the oafish comedic charm that he brought to films like “Burn After Reading” and “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” Ladybug is going through a bit of a midlife crisis, and works through his anxieties with his handler, Maria. The only reason he ranks lower on the list is that the other characters feel a little more unique; we’ve seen plenty of middle-aged assassins in other movies.
Prince is one of the most surprising characters in “Bullet Train.” Although she pretends to be an innocent school girl, she is easily one of the smartest characters in the film, effectively tricking various characters into doing her bidding as part of her quest for revenge. Despite her youthfulness, King gives one of the film’s most terrifying performances as the young assassin. When she threatens to kill Kimura’s son, there is no reason to doubt her intensity.
Prince’s schemes to get other characters to believe that she’s harmless could have easily become a tired gag, but King does such a great job that the conceit never wears out its welcome. She really comes into her own by the end of the story, in which her reason for wanting to kill White Death is revealed: Prince is actually White Death’s daughter, and she’s always believed that her father loved the Son more.
Prince’s confrontation with White Death is one of the most intense scenes in “Bullet Train”; these are easily the two most ruthless characters in the film, and either one could gain the upper hand at any moment. Although only pieces of their shared backstory are revealed, King and Shannon do a great job of implying that a more complex history exists without actually spelling it out for the audience. Prince had the potential to be number one on our ranking; unfortunately, her death scene is a big disappointment.
The funniest moments in “Bullet Train” come from the interactions between Lemon and Tangerine, a pair of assassins known as “The Twins.” Their chemistry is perfect — it feels like they’ve been working together for a long, long time. Although their relationship is mostly used for comedic purposes, it does lead to a couple of more emotional moments. When Lemon learns that Tangerine is dead, for example, he is genuinely distraught.
As Lemon, Brian Tyree Henry gets a few more standout moments, including a great scene in which he tries to convince White Death’s gang that the Son is still alive. Lemon’s survival is also played for laughs. After he is flung from the train into the water, Lemon heads to the shore, and begins driving a truck carrying tangerines. In an act of revenge, he runs over Prince. Lemon ranks slightly below his partner because he seems to forgive Ladybug for killing Tangerine a little too easily; even if it was Prince’s scheme that caused Tangerine’s death, Ladybug is the man who was holding the gun.
2. The Elder
It’s understandable why a veteran stuntman like David Leitch would want an actor like Hiroyuki Sanada in “Bullet Train.” In addition to his numerous acting credits, Sanada has trained extensively in various martial arts. His natural fighting abilities have landed him roles in “Westworld,” “The Wolverine,” “Speed Racer,” and “Army of the Dead,” and there’s no doubt that Sanda isn’t pulling his punches when he shows up in “Bullet Train.”
The entire film builds to the Elder’s final duel against the White Death. In part, this is achieved via flashbacks, which reveal how earlier incidents led up to the current events. By the end of the film, even Ladybug doesn’t want to hear another origin story. However, the Elder’s explanation of his connection to the White Death is very compelling: He has been seeking revenge for his entire life, and he’s orchestrated things to ensure that both his son and grandson will be safe. Ladybug gets into some shenanigans during the duel between these two veteran warriors; clearly, this is the fight that the audience came to see.
In a film that’s packed with both action and humor, Tangerine splits the difference between being completely hilarious and absolutely ruthless. He is easily the most well-rounded character in the film. Tangerine and Lemon’s quick-witted banter is so relentless that you will probably want to see “Bullet Train” multiple times just to catch all of the jokes, and of all the action sequences in “Bullet Train,” the bar brawl between Ladybug and Tangerine is the most creative, with the characters trading insults and punches in equal measure.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson has proven time and time again that he can add a lot to a very simple character, and he does that once more here. When Tangerine thinks that Lemon is dead, his heartbreaking response is genuinely moving. Audiences may have been expecting to see a lot of twists and turns in “Bullet Train,” but they probably didn’t expect to tear up, too.
Really, “Bullet Train” only starts to lose momentum after Tangerine’s death. If Taylor-Johnson is only half as awesome in the upcoming “Kraven the Hunter” film, then comic book fans have quite a treat ahead of them.
Read this next: The 18 Best Action Movie Actors Ranked
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Author: Liam Gaughan
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August 5, 2022